It Is Written: The Bible as God’s Necessary Revelation

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. - Rom. 10:17

Though God can reveal himself in many forms, he chose to address our relationship with him in Scripture. This is information humans desperately need but have access to nowhere else. Hence, given the moral universe God created, with its rules for a proper relation to him, it was and is necessary for God to give us Scripture.

– John S. Feinberg

Previously, we have considered the Scriptures’ inspiration, trustworthiness and authority. Today’s post will give support to the Bible as God’s special revelation as well as necessity of Scripture. By revelation, we mean the act of God which He has made known what was otherwise unknowable.

What can we know about God without reading or hearing the Bible? It’s true that we all have some understanding of right and wrong by observation. And although there is much we can know about God from this “general revelation,” people have suppressed their knowledge (Romans 1:18-20). In general revelation, we see God’s witness of himself through creation, history, and the conscience of man.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. - Psalm 19:1-3
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. - Rom. 1:19

How can we, as fallen people, learn what we so desperately need to know? Necessity of Scripture means that God has given us the Bible so that people might properly understand their condition before God and learn of God’s remedy for their desperate need. Historically, Christians from all theological traditions have confessed that the Bible is the Word of God. Scripture is both sufficient and necessary as God’s revelation. In special revelation, we learn God’s disclosure of himself. The Bible is necessary for understanding the gospel, the way of salvation. In addition, the Scriptures are necessary for progressing in Christlikeness and for discerning God’s will. The Bible is God’s necessary, special revelation.

Important to note, revelation is distinct from illumination. Revelation is objective disclosure of truth, where illumination is inward and subjective discovery of truth revealed. Revelation is also distinct from inspiration. Inspiration is the “how,” the means, the process. Revelation is the “what,” the content of the message, the product.

“How do we know that the Bible is God’s special revelation? There is much evidence in the manuscript tradition and in church history that supports its credibility and accuracy. But theologians often say that ultimately the Bible is ‘self-authenticating,’ which means that when we hear the Bible expounded and take it to heart, then our lives are transformed by the Spirit of God in ways that are true of no other source. It is ultimately because God is the one who is speaking and who authenticates both the speaking and the hearing that we as the community of faith continue to receive the Bible as God’s special revelation to his people.”

– Gerald Bray, “Special Revelation, in Lexham Survey of Theology, ed. Mark Ward et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).

Remember from earlier posts, Christianity is based ultimately on knowledge that comes to us, not from us. The early church affirmed the necessity of Scripture in their understanding that as Christ’s church, we receive the Word of God. Christ’s example and teaching shows us that no matter how helpful our traditions may be, we are not to follow them if we discover that they are contrary to the Word of God. Scripture is the only infallible authority for Christian faith and practice, which means that it sits above all other authorities (see Mark 7:1-23).

The apostle Paul writes that Scripture’s purpose is “to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). Again in Romans 10:14-17, he explains to readers that without preaching the Word, people won’t be saved. In other words, to know how to become a Christian, ordinarily a person must either read about it or have someone explain what is plainly written in the Bible. It’s possible that a person or people can be told the message of the gospel and taught what the Scriptures say but without the message originally found in the Bible, one cannot know God. To summarize, the specific message of the gospel is contained in the Scriptures (Rom. 10:13, 14, and 17; 2 Tim. 3:15).

There is a constant coming of God to man in theophany, prophecy, and miracle, and this coming reaches its highest point in the incarnation of the Son of God and in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

– Louis Berkhof

In confirmation from Genesis to Revelation, we are met with Christ himself. Once saved, progress in faith and maturity requires we be nourished by the Word of God (1 Pet. 2:1-3). Bottom line, we need the Scriptures in order to know God in a personal way. Furthermore, the Christian life begins with the Bible and grows by the Bible (Matt. 4:4; 1 Pet. 1:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:18).

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Rom. 10:13-17

Without the Bible there would be no narrative of redemption, no clear gospel message, no knowledge of the attributes and plan of God, and no knowledge of sin and God’s offer of forgiveness. No other tool is more central to God’s work of redemptive rescue than the word of God, empowered by the Spirit of God. Without the Bible we would be hopelessly lost, without God and without hope in this terribly fallen world.

– Paul Tripp

I also want to point out that all of the Bible is not going to be properly understood by anyone unless that person is born again. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. - 2 Pet. 3:18
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. - John 1:17-18
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. - Heb 1:1-3

The Westminster Confession 1.1 states: “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in diverse manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased..” (Psalm 19, Rom. 1:18-23, Rom. 2:14, Heb. 1:1-2) Had God chosen not to reveal himself, we would not know Him. Truthful disclosure of God is seen in creation, conscience, and special revelation. We have the living Word, Jesus, and the written Word, the Bible.

“Can any of us experience anything in life of greater personal advantage to our souls than possession of the Holy Scriptures? Of course not! Without them we are utterly confused, adrift on a sea of human speculation where all the great questions of life are concerned. Is there a God? We do not know; at least, in our sinful state we are unable to admit the full personal significance of there being a God. Who are we? We do not know the answer to that important question. Apart from Scripture, we cannot know that we have been created in the image of the one true God and are called to glorify him and to enjoy him forever. How do we come to God? How is our sin to be dealt with? What way of life is best? Does what we do here matter? It is only from the revelation of God in the Bible that we can have sure answers to any of these life-and-death questions.”

– James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Justification by Faith, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991–), 269.

Why is the Bible needed to truly know God? Although we can never have an exhaustive understanding of who God is and how he relates to his creation, without the Bible we would have very little knowledge of who God is. We certainly would not have the understanding of His work of salvation, and how to live a life that pleases God. The Bible is necessary for knowledge of the gospel and maintaining spiritual life and certain knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 4:4). Because the way of salvation is found only in the Bible, we must know the Scriptures to appreciate and properly communicate the gospel. But we don’t just need Scripture to know the gospel. We need it to live the Christian life, and we need it to know God’s will.

My question must be – and is – not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say?”

– John Stott

How do the Spirit and the Word work together in our lives? The Christian has the Spirit, a conscience, and common sense, but we live in a fallen world. We are sinners. We could have no certainty of God’s will without Scriptures (Rom. 12:2). There we find God has actually told us His will. Sometimes it simply says “this is the will of God” like in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, where we’re told that our sanctification is the will of God. Granted, He hasn’t told us everything but He’s told us enough (2 Timothy 3:16). The people of God are to live in wise and discerning ways (Deut. 4:5-7; Col. 1:9-10). We may be convinced something is true, but that doesn’t make it so. People who rely on the Spirit of God while neglecting the Word of God deny the doctrines of sufficiency and necessity of Scripture. There is potential for wrecked lives by such wrong ideas, and these individuals should be urged to read and live Scripture daily.

...these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. - 2 Cor. 2:10-13

Have you read the Bible or had someone explain to you what’s in the Bible so you might know God personally? If we are going to have sins forgiven and if we are going to know with certainty what God wants to do we must hear. Paul stresses in Romans 10:14 that faith only comes by hearing the word of God. So we have to read it or have it delivered to us through reading, explaining, or preaching to understand salvation. Ordinarily, we become wise unto salvation through the scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15).

Do you believe the Bible is necessary for you to live the Christian life? The Christian life has potential to flourish when lived in and through the Scriptures. We must have a steady intake of scripture feeding our soul to sustain and maintain our spiritual lives (Matt. 4:4). When Christians neglect Bible intake, they restrict their growth. In addition, it is only in the scriptures that we find clearly and definitively what God’s will is. If we intend to know God and know His will, the Scriptures are necessary. Ultimately, we need the Bible to be certain about anything at all. The Bible not only sustains us and makes us healthy, as the knowledge of God the scriptures enable Christians to live differently from the surrounding world. The Bible is God’s necessary revelation.   

Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.

– A.W. Tozer

Where is this Truth Found in the Bible?

Matthew 4:4; Romans 10:3-7; Deuteronomy 8:3; Ge 12:1–3; Ex 3:4–22; Is 6:1–5; Je 1:4–10; Eze 2:1–8; Hag 1:1; Mt 16:17; Lk 1:26–38; Ac 9:1–7; Re 1:1–3; 1 Co 2:12–13

For further study, I recommend reading from my sources for this series that are found in the intro post, It is Written: An Eight Part Theological Series.

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